The New York City Housing Authority can evict tenants for lying about their income, New York’s highest court ruled Thursday, overturning a lower court ruling that said the drastic penalty was likely to leave one woman and her three children homeless.
The Court of Appeals concluded there’s “a vital public interest” in enforcing income rules for public housing, which is limited and has waiting lists of families.
The five judges unanimously said the authority’s decision to evict Jacqueline Perez doesn’t shock their sense of fairness, that public housing is not “tenancy of last resort” and that courts should consider every eviction challenge on its own merits. Perez, living in a Manhattan apartment, got a bookkeeping job but claimed in affidavits from 1999 to 2005 that she didn’t work, which kept her rent lower.
“Absent from the Appellate Division’s analysis … is any estimate of how probable it is that [the] petitioner’s eviction would result in homelessness,” Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote, faulting the lower court’s 4-1 decision against eviction. He noted Perez has an income, and while she testified she couldn’t afford a larger apartment, she didn’t claim at her hearings that she would become homeless.
If the courts assume public housing is the last resort, no tenants would ever be evicted no matter what they did, Pigott wrote. And if tenants believe they face little chance of eviction for misstating their earnings, the possibility of a criminal fraud conviction and court-ordered restitution may not be enough to deter the practice, he wrote.
In 2006, Perez was charged with grand larceny for failing to report her income, accused of defrauding the authority of $27,000 from lower rent she wasn’t entitled to. She pleaded guilty to petty larceny and was sentenced to a conditional discharge, agreeing to pay $20,000 in restitution.
The lower court, in judging eviction too harsh, said Perez “has made every effort to cure the violation by making restitution.”
According to the authority, more than 400,000 New Yorkers live in its 334 public housing developments in the city’s five boroughs, and another 235,000 get subsidized rental assistance in private homes.
Calls to the authority and to Perez’s attorney were not immediately returned Thursday.